"Holy cow," McCoy said.
When they pushed through the ornate carved doors, leaving the bright sunshine and the bustling streets of Brazenthali behind them and entered the opulent sales room of Past Life Antiquities, Handels Water Music was playing in the background.
"Holy cow," McCoy breathed again, clutching his precious package tight to his chest as the doors swung shut behind them.
Although light years away from Earth, this Velsian dealer in antiques had chosen a Victorian theme for the sales room. Heavy burgundy velvet curtains swagged across immense windows that stretched from floor to ceiling. The walls were groaning with portraits, landscapes, maps, and objets dart. One whole wall was dedicated to weaponry, some of it identifiable, some of it alien even to McCoy. Tables and chairs and other exotica were scattered throughout the large room, covered with pillows, rolled ephemera, doilies, tapestries, and knickknacks. At the far end of the room, a fire crackled in a hearth, and above it, a huge mirror reflected the incredible collection.
McCoy moved slowly into the room, captivated.
"An impressive compilation of artifacts, Doctor," Spock said as he followed.
Kirk lifted a book from one of the tables. "Bones, do you think this Velsian will have any knowledge of the American Civil War?" he asked.
"I hear hes amazing, Jim," McCoy said, turning to him. "I have a friend from my intern days who brought a piece of artwork in a few years ago. It was Terran, nineteenth century Asian, and this VelsianOvailia is his namenailed it. At least according to Parker."
Spock was peering around the back of a roll-top desk. "I am curious as to how he gains access to his data banks," he said. "I see no signs of a computer."
McCoy shrugged. "Parker said he doesnt use one."
Spocks eyebrows rose. "Then he would truly be amazing, Doctor."
"Thats what Parker thought," McCoy said. "He wouldnt tell me how he does it." He paused in front of a hand-lettered sign propped on a table, advertising Ovailias rates. "And he should be amazing at these prices."
"May I help you, gentlemen?" The thin voice pulled them around, towards the back of the shop.
"Mister Ovailia?" McCoy asked.
"I am the one," he responded.
"I have an item that Id like you to authenticate, Mister Ovailia," McCoy said, moving towards him. He held out his package.
"This way, if you please," the Velsian said, shuffling towards a velvet-topped table.
The proprietor looked to be about fifty, ancient for a Velsian. He was, like all natives of Velsia, as thin as a rail and slightly taller than Spock. His skin was translucent and parchment-like, and when he took a seat behind a table covered with black velvet, McCoy noted the traditional heart-hole in the center of his tunic where they could see his fist-sized heart pumping purple-red blood through the thin gauze of his skin.
It was hard not to be mesmerized by it. The doctor had held a pre-leave briefing about the Velsians for all those going ashore, most specifically about the fact that the most important organ in their bodies was on open display for everyone to see. And whatever you do, hed soundly admonished the crew, dont just sit there and stare at it! Which was, of course, exactly what they were doing now.
Except for Spock, McCoy thought, shooting a glance at him. He was standing in front of the fireplace a few meters away, his hands behind his back, gazing curiously at all of the items displayed on the mantle. If Spock were left to his own devices, theyd never get out of there.
Ovailia sat, gestured to the others to do so as well, and held his long, thin fingers out across the table. McCoy carefully placed the parcel in them.
"What can you tell me about this?" the Velsian asked in a bird-like voice as he began to carefully peel away layers of wrapping.
"Been in my family for over four hundred years," McCoy replied in a proud drawl. "Terran American Civil War issue." The Velsian picked at the last layer with care. "I want to give it to my daughter on her birthday, and I thought it would be good to have some kind of authentication."
"Did your ancestor serve with the North or with the South?" Spock said as he strolled over to the table where they were seated and joined them.
"Neither," McCoy answered, not surprised that Spock would be well-informed enough about Terran history to know to ask. "He served in the U.S. Sanitary Commission, a precursor of the Red Cross. Family oral tradition says he slipped this into a medical bag. The McCoys have had it ever since."
The doctors precious artifact was now revealed: a Confederate cap, leaning jauntily forward on its stiff leather brim. "Ive been careful with it," McCoy said. "I think its in pretty good shape."
The Velsian didnt respond, but placed his slender fingers on the cap and closed his reptilian eyes. His heartbeat visibly slowed. After a moment, he pulled his hands away and folded them back on the table. "Yes," he said in a reedy whisper. "This is authentic. It is what you say that it is."
McCoy was flabbergasted. "You can tell just by touching it?"
"That is what I do," he replied, blinking. "And if you touch it, you will know its past as well."
McCoy shot Kirk and Spock a look of astonishment. "What do you think?" he asked, wide-eyed. "Should I? Should we?"
"Well, Bones..." Kirk said slowly, looking uneasy, as if he were buying time. The captain looked over McCoy at Spock, and the doctor turned to look as well.
Spocks eyes were as wide as McCoys and his eyebrows were raised, as if silently begging for permission, as if hoping for a "yes." The Vulcan was, McCoy could see, as curious as he was. And curiosity had a tendency to kill the cat. But the opportunity...
McCoy turned and grinned at the captain. "Jim?"
"Well," he finally said in a sigh. "What harm could there be? And were on leave, right?"
The Velsian dropped his head to his chest and took a deep breath, putting his right hand over his heart-hole. Then he looked back up at them placed his fingers on the cap and nodded for them to do the same. McCoy and Spock reached out immediately. Kirk hesitated a beat, and then joined them.
"I am sure that you have been instructed not to do this, but in order to affect this transference, you will need to look closely at my heart."
McCoy followed Ovailias instructions and gazed at the pulsing heartsomething hed wanted to do from the get-go anyhowand he felt himself being pulled away, away from the table, away from the shop, away from the planet. What had he said? he wondered with a start before his thought processes slowed to a crawl. Transference?
Will I have to pay extra for this?
The first thing he noticed was the smell. It was appalling. After his first cognizant breath, he gagged. The second thing he noticed was the sweltering heat. The third thing he noticed was that this felt pretty damned real for what he assumed was a hypnotic trance.
McCoy shot a look to his left. It was Kirk, and the doctor sighed with relief. The odors and sounds that had assailed him had told him that he didnt necessarily want to face this virtual reality alone. At least there was Jim. He looked to his right. No Spock.
"Jim. Youre with me? Youre seeing this?"
"Yeah," Kirk responded in an awed whisper. McCoy knew that Kirk was an amateur historian, and the Civil War was one of his specialties. He was sure that his friend was having difficulty believing what he was seeing.
He knew that he sure was.
They were on a hill, above a large tent. In the distance, through the deciduous trees, they could see a battle raging, could smell gunpowder and see it filling the valley, could hear the muffled explosions of cannons. And below them was a bustling triage and the smell the blood. The cries of the maimed and dying rose to their vantage point.
"Good God," Kirk said, squinting out at the panorama, his hands on his hips. "This guy is fantastic."
"Youre a captain."
"Look at your uniform. Youre a captain in the Union Army." Kirk looked down at the navy blue wool uniform.
"No wonder I itch," he said, frowning. He looked up at McCoy. "No uniform on you, Bones. Youre in civilian clothing. What are you?"
McCoy gave him a crooked grin. "My guess? A doctor. What else?" Suddenly uneasy, he glanced to his right again. "Where do you think Spock is?"
Kirk chuckled. "Back at Past Life Antiquities, probably dying of curiosity. And envious as hell."
"I wonder why he didnt make the...the transference?"
Kirk grinned. "Bones, I can check our data banks when were back on the Enterprise, but Im pretty sure there werent any Vulcans fighting on either side in the American Civil War." He nodded out at the view in front of them. "Besides, hed stick out like a sore thumb here."
"And we dont?"
"Good point. Im sure were not even here in a real sense." Kirk patted down his clothes, felt his face, grabbed McCoys arm. "Feels real enough," he said. "Theres one way to find out." He gestured down the hill. "Shall we, Doctor?"
McCoy hesitated. Somewhere in that tent was an ancestor. Somewhere in that tent there was a Confederate cap. Was it enough to know that it was authentic? Did he really need more than that?
He knew what he would see in the tent. James T. Kirk was not the only amateur historian there. He would see awful things, terrible things, things that would haunt his dreams: Boys blown to pieces, men butchered, body parts in pails.
Maybe he could help. Maybe his advanced knowledge could save someone. But then again, maybe he shouldnt try. Could he impact the space/time continuum if he saved someone who was meant to die? But this wasnt real, he told himself, so it wouldnt matter. They werent here, he knew. They were sitting at a velvet-topped table in an antique store in Brazenthali on the planet Velsia, staring at Ovailias heart. And Spock was there, waiting.
What he wouldnt give for a big dose of Vulcan logic right now.
The doctor looked at Kirk. The captain was peering through the trees at the firefight, his eyes glistening. McCoy looked back down at the tent. He was curious about his ancestor, he had to admit. You didnt get a chance like this very often. And theyd sure as hell never be going back to the Guardian of Forever for something as frivolous as this. "All right," he said. "Lets go."
They were halfway down the hill when it was confirmed that they were visible. A sharp salute in Kirks direction from a sentry gave them that truth.
"At ease, soldier."
"Just cant resist, can you?" McCoy asked out of the corner of his mouth.
They stopped several meters from the tent flap. It was open, and soldiers and stretchers and nurses were passing in and out. McCoy could hear instructions being called out by doctors inside, and he peered into the darkness. The bright sun made it impossible to see inside with any clarity. The stench was worse here now that they were down off the hill, and the cries were intelligible. He could hear names now, names of loved ones, wives and children and mothers, and the names of the deities. He looked at Kirk.
Kirks attention had been dragged to the battle. There was a dusty path that cut through the forest no more than five meters away, and the dead and dying were coming from there and fresh troops were marching out. McCoy could feel Kirk being pulled to it, pulled like an errant, under-powered ship into a black hole.
"Oh, no you dont!" McCoy said, grabbing his arm. "Not on my dime. Get your own hat and find your own war. This is my ancestral past."
It took Kirk a few seconds to turn to McCoy. "Right, right," he said absently. "Just wondering what battle it is...I mean...was."
"Excuse me, Captain." A boy, having difficulty handling his end of an occupied stretcher, was waiting behind Kirk, trying to get by.
"Let me take that, son," McCoy said, wanting to make himself useful and needing to gain legitimate entrance to the tent. "Captain, could you get the other end?" They took the burden from the boysno more than thirteen, either of them, McCoy thought with a shockand went through the wide flap.
He made it three meters before his eyes accustomed themselves to the shadowy light, and he froze.
This, surely, was Hell.
He had grown used to the smell by now. And the cries were still there, but they had become a background hymn. It was the blood that stopped him cold. It shouldnt have surprised him. He was a doctor, after all, and he knew what was in a Human body. Hed just not seen as much of it spilled in one place as he was seeing now.
Modern surgical procedures didnt produce much blood. Theyd managed to clean up the process decades ago. And hed gotten to point where he thought he could fix just about any traumatic injury, no matter how severe, so hed learned to look at blood and the loss of it with a certain dispassion. Hed had to, given that hed chosen to serve on a starship. Hed gotten fairly used to having Kirk or Spock or hapless redshirts coming in a quart low.
But on the ship, he knew he could replace it. He knew he could regenerate more. Here, it was a river of death, and it was running off of tables, dripping to the floor, pooling in depressions, soaking into the sawdust.
He faltered. "Good Lord," he said aloud.
Someone, thankfully, took the stretcher away.
"Bones. Are you okay?"
"No," the doctor answered truthfully. He looked at Kirks ashen face, paler still due to the odd half-light in the tent. "Are you?"
"Not hardly," the captain answered.
They surveyed the scene.
In spite of the chaos, McCoy could detect some kind of order there. The dead were being moved out swiftly. The dying appeared to be against the tent wall to their left. There were clergy members therenuns, ministers, priestsand last rites were being given and last messages being transcribed. The ambulatory were being helped away after their wounds had been tended. There was no space for them to rest here.
Surgery was in the far corner, behind screens of muslin. He grimaced at the screams of pain coming from there. Dont they have ether yet? he wondered.
McCoy resisted the urge to walk down the narrow aisles between the beds and stretchers and make spot diagnoses. What good would it do any of them? So what if he could detect something that a doctor here could not? There was no cure that he could provide, no blood that he could beam down, no miracle drug that he could administer in a hypo.
Kirk grabbed his arm. "Come on, Bones; do this thing. We need to get out of here."
But what was the best way to find his ancestor? He might guess at which were the doctors. His eyes scanned those who looked to be caretakers, those who were standing and moving, tending to soldiers. There might be fifteen doctors here, and more behind the muslin curtain. He cleared his throat.
"Doctor McCoy!" he called, startling the captain. "Is Doctor McCoy here?" Several people looked up, but no one responded. He stepped further into the tent. "Is Doctor McCoy here? We have a message for Doctor McCoy." A woman looked over at them. She had looked up the first time with some interest, and then had gone back to speaking to the man lying on the table in front of her. Intelligent brown eyes set in a broad, handsome face followed them as they moved into the tent, and she frowned, patted the hand of the man on the table, and came towards them.
"Gentlemen?" she said, wiping her hands on her stiff, white apron.
"Maam," McCoy said, bowing at the waist. "Do you know a Doctor McCoy?"
"I thought that there might have been some mistake, and that you might be looking for me," she said graciously in a soft drawl. "Communications do have a tendency to become garbled when you are at the front. Oh, excuse me. My manners," she said, as if it actually mattered under the circumstances. "My name is Margaret Demarest. And I am engaged to be married to Mister Robert Macy McCoy of Athens, Georgia. And I am a doctor, so you see, I thought there might have been an error..."
McCoy felt a thrill. A woman doctor, he thought with no small amount of pride. Whod have thought it, back this far? She was looking up at him expectantly. He cleared his throat and leaned towards her. "No maam ... I mean, Doctor. Im sorry, Im afraid the message is not for you. Records show that there is a Doctor McCoy at the front, and thats who were looking for."
"Of course," she said with a faint half-smile, one that turned up sweetly in one corner and looked amazingly like a smile that his Great Aunt Beatrice might favor him with today. She began to turn away.
"Doctor Demarest," Kirk said, halting her turn, "are there any Confederates in here? Any prisoners of war?"
"There have been, of course, Captain," she responded. "But none now, I do not believe."
"Thank you, Doctor."
She nodded at them and left.
"Well Ill be, Jim," McCoy whispered, awed, watching her straight back as she moved through the cots. "A woman! Thats worth the price of this whole damned thing." He looked at the captain. "Im embarrassed to tell you that I just always assumed it was a man."
"Dont be, Bones," Kirk said. "Consider the times."
They were pushed aside and against the tent wall by an influx of stretchers, fresh wounded from the front.
"What now?" Kirk asked sotto voce, watching the solemn parade. "She said there are no rebels here. Could she have the cap already?"
McCoy had officially ceased to care. He wiped his brow with an arm and shook his head. "Ive had enough, Jim. Ive met her, Ive seen the Civil War first-handsomething I certainly never aspired to doso Im happy to assume that somewhere, sometime in this tent, she picked up that cap. Or picks up that cap."
The wail that came from the center of the tent momentarily halted all movement and ceased other sound. McCoy frowned and tried to peer through the people moving in front of them at what was causing the uproar.
"What devil is this?" came the cry from the tents center. "What devil is this? Sweet Lord!"
"Bones, its time. Lets get out of here and get up on the hill," Kirk said, pulling McCoy as he went. People began going back about their business.
"Sweet God, help us. The devil is here, and he is a rebel!"
McCoy froze mid-step. Something squeezed his heart.
"Bones. Come on."
"Oh no," McCoy murmured, turning and looking back behind them, resisting Kirks insistent tug. "Jim," he whispered, "Ive got a bad feeling about this."
McCoy pulled himself away from the captain and moved through the crowds, back towards the center of the tent, hoping that Kirk was behind him. The woman whod been crying out was running from the tent in the other direction with her apron over her head, weeping and jabbering.
"Oh God," McCoy said aloud, moving faster now, tearing around cots, shoving people aside, banging into pots of blood. He had his eyes on the table that the shrieking woman had left. As he pulled closer, he could see the gray of a rebel uniform and sleek black hair in disarray. And he could see blood.
It was green.
It was Spock, and his eyes were closed, black eyelashes resting on nearly-white skin, his chest barely moving. Blood was streaming from a wound in his abdomen.
He heard Kirks voice. "Oh my God..." The captain had followed him and now stood on the opposite side of the table, his eyes wide and disbelieving.
"Thats it!" McCoy said loudly, grabbing anything that looked absorbent and clean from a table next to them and pressing it on the wound. "This is officially over!"
McCoy had hoped that simply saying it would make it so, but nothing happened. He raised his voice. "I said this is over!" People around them looked up at the commotion. "Ovailia! Ovailia of Velsia! Bring us back now!" McCoy cried at the tent ceiling, his voice cracking. He looked down and grimaced. The towels were almost soaked through already.
"Stay unconscious," McCoy muttered.
But Spock had never listened to the doctor in all the years theyd known each other. His eyes fluttered open and fastened, confused and pained, on Kirk. Kirk looked up at McCoy.
He said "Bones." One word. But it was a tacit order to fix it. To make it right.
On the Enterprise, McCoy could pull a miracle on something like this and did so on a daily basis. Stomach wound? No problem. Step right this way. Instead, stuck in whatever horrible half-world they were stuck in, McCoy did the only thing that he could think of that might help. He borrowed a page right out of the Book of Spock and leaned over and pulled Spocks face in his direction.
"Spock! Listen to me! This is not real, and you know it!"
The dark eyes that shined back at him told McCoy what he didnt want to know: that it may not have been real, but just as it had smelled real and sounded real, it sure as hell felt real, and there didnt seem to be any good thing that the doctor could do about it. Unable to hold that gaze any longer, the doctor dropped his head to his chest and squeezed his eyes shut. When he opened them, his heart skipped a beat. In the dim half-light he could see that there was something clutched in Spocks right hand.
It was a Confederate cap.
McCoy pulled it from Spocks grasp.
"Jim! Keep steady pressure on these bandages." He threw a look behind him. Where was she? Could she have gone, worked her shift and left? He looked across Spock and around Kirk in the other direction. The woman who had seen Spock and had the fit was stumbling towards the wide tent flap with two sentries in tow, babbling and pointing.
McCoy backpedaled and turned. He spotted Doctor Demarest in the far corner where they had originally entered the tent. She was directing stretcher placement, checking each soldier as they came in and pointing to where they should be taken. He tore for her, retracing his path through the cots and tables. When he reached her, he grabbed her arm and looked back across the tent before he spoke. The sentries were at the opposite tent flap, peering in to where the woman was pointing.
Kirk somehow made eye contact with him across the space, his message a simple one: Hurry.
"Doctor, wheres your medikit?" McCoy hissed, turning back to her.
"My..." She was lost.
"Your kit, your supplies." The soldiers were moving into the tent. Christ! What did they call them back then? Come on, Leonard! "Your satchel! Your bag!"
She looked up at him. Why should she trust me? he wondered. I must look and sound like a madman. And then, amazingly, she nodded and pointed at a table of supplies about four meters away, back towards the center of the tent. He shot her a look of pure gratitude and tore for it.
The soldiers had reached Kirk and Spock. Kirk was attempting to order them away, pretending to get his dander up, attempting to misdirect them.
McCoy went down, his foot caught in a pile of fallen bandages. He pulled himself up, wheezing for the breath that had been knocked out of him. Kirks attempt at projection hadnt worked, and McCoy could see as he moved that one of the soldiers had spotted the blood or the earsdidnt really matter whichand after recoiling, was moving back towards the table and pulling his rifle up from his side.
McCoy reached the supply table, and he scanned the top of it in a panic. Bandages. Iodine. Pails of water. Soap. No bag. He leaned over. There were two black satchels on a lower shelf. McCoy grabbed for one and instantly heard an angry male voice behind him, calling him on it. He dropped it, grabbed the other, and fiddled with the clasp as he stood and looked to the center of the tent.
They were gone! No. Not gone. On the floor. Rolling and fighting on the floor. Kirk had taken the both of them on. Spock was still on the table, unmoving.
Beneath his fumbling fingers, the clasp opened and he pulled the satchel wide. For a nanosecond, he considered the possible consequences. She could pull it out later and toss it, and he and Kirk and Spock would come out of it on Velsia with their hands resting on nothing but a velvet tabletop. Maybe. Or maybe theyd be stuck here forever. Or maybe she wasnt the ancestor after all. Or maybe his old buddy Parker was a lying sack of shit and this was all some terrible, God-awful, drug-induced practical joke.
Or maybe this wouldnt work.
But it had to.
He shoved the cap in the bag.
McCoys first thought as he popped back into the Past Life Antiquities shop was for Spock, and after he jerked his hands off the cap, he immediately threw a hand out to this right and was gratified when it hit something solid and warm. His second thought was for Kirk, and he threw his other arm off to his left and caught the captain rising out of his chair, headed where McCoy thought he would be headed: Across the table and right for Ovailias throat.
"What the hell was that?" Kirk growled, gaining his feet, his fists balled. "Just what the hell was that?"
Ovailia had pushed his chair back and was blinking rapidly.
"Jim!" McCoy said, pulling at him. "Its okay. Its over."
Kirk frowned down at McCoy and then looked past him, concerned, at Spock. McCoy followed his gaze. The Vulcan looked shaken.
Spock took a deep breath and answered their unasked questions. "I am ... undamaged," he said with an uncharacteristic pause, as if he had to take a second inventory to make sure.
McCoy nodded. Hed take him at his word for now, but a trip to sickbay when they returned to the ship was at the top of McCoys list of things to do. Right after he had a piece of Mister Ovailias flimsy hide. Transference, my skinny Georgia butt, he thought bitterly. He looked back at the Velsian. "Ive got a good mind to report you to the authorities, Mister Ovailia," he said angrily. "Do you have any idea what you just put us through?"
The Velsian found his voice. "No, sir. I do not."
McCoy exchanged a confused glance with the others. "What do you mean?" he asked. "Werent you there? Couldnt you see what we saw? Couldnt you stop it?"
"No, sir," the Velsian responded, shaking his head. "I simply affect transference. I do not tell the tale or witness it. The object tells the story."
"Stop talking in riddles!" Kirk shot. "What do you mean?"
The Velsian crossed his arms. "I did not tell that tale, sir." He bowed his head towards the object in the middle of the table. "The cap told the tale that it was meant to tell."
"Thats impossible! Spock was there," the captain said, nodding to his right. "You cant tell me that there were Vulcans in the Terran American Civil War!"
"I am telling you nothing, sir. I know nothing of the Terran American Civil War, or of Vulcans. But the cap knows."
McCoy gritted his teeth. He had a splitting headache. This was getting them nowhere. He wanted to be away from there, back on the ship, safe and clean and surrounded by humming technology that kept people alive. He could still smell the blood and the gunpowder. He could still hear the cries of pain. He fumbled in his jacket for a book of credits.
"Lets get the hell out of here," he said, pulling out the appropriate amount and tossing it on the table. "Ive seen more than enough." He sloppily replaced the wrapping on the cap and picked it up. The three of them headed unsteadily for the door.
Spock and Kirk pushed the huge double doors open.
The cheerful, bustling streets of Brazenthali presented an incredible counterpoint to what theyd just witnessed. The sunshine made the doctor squint. Children laughed. Groups of Velsians called to each other. He heard music wafting from a second-story window and spotted some of the Enterprise crew across the street, seated in dappled sunlight at an outdoor bistro. They waved. He smelled something fresh from the oven. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, eagerly drinking it all in, desperate to erase what theyd witnessed.
Maybe Spock had been the cause of it. Spock had telepathic abilities, the doctor mused, so perhaps his inclusion in the threesome had knocked the transference sideways somehow. Yeah. That must have been it, he thought with growing surety, reveling in the sounds and smells as the doors swung shut behind them. Leave it to that green-blooded son-of-a-gun to put a crimp in their shore leave. He looked to his left at the Vulcan.
Spock was looking down at McCoys package, frowning, his lips parted.
"Spock," McCoy said. "You okay?"
Spocks dark eyes met his, and then he pointed at the package, at a place that McCoy hadnt covered with the wrapping, where part of the cap was showing.
"Well what the hell is that?" McCoy said, disappointed. "Damn! And Ive been so careful with it!" There was something on the cap, something that he knew hadnt been there before. He pulled the package closer to his face.
There was a spot.
It was green.
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